Drawing from Disney
Walt Disney was fascinated with the shaping of space both visually and physically, from the way he transformed the animated film to his invention of the modern theme park. I think architecture was always an important theme for him, like the shiny-bright suburb in the Goofy cartoon Motor Mania of 1950 or the suave contemporary ranch house in the original Parent Trap of 1961. I vividly remember touring Monsanto’s House of the Future at Disneyland
(image fromYesterland.com) with its curvilinear white plastic pods
cantilevered over a central support and utility podium (Yesterland.com). Though designed not by Disney but by two MIT professors — who must have been channeling Buckminster Fuller
and his similarly central-masted Minimum Dymaxion house of 1929 — Walt had the sense to give the plastic Monsanto house a ten-year lease in Tomorrowland. The swoopy modern furniture from fifty years ago
still looks contemporary today (Yesterland.com photo)
I was reminded of these images and Disney’s huge influence on design and our appreciation of it when I toured the superb new Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio, which opened last week. Two hours flew by. I felt I had stumbled into an animated autobiography, or rather, a compelling four-dimensional biopic.
San Francisco’s Page & Turnbull Architects have deftly inserted the state-of-the-art museum
into an historic 19th century brick row (photo by Cesar Rubio) along the Presidio’s parade ground — which is itself like a distant extension of Disneyland’s own Main Street. From the front there’s no hint of the wonderland within. And at the rear only an elegant glass skin
drawn across an addition (photo by Bruce Damonte) suggests a house of marvels. You experience the museum as a journey through Walt’s life with text blocks, still images, film clips, memorabilia, and narrations by Walt and others every few feet along a carefully choreographed and roughly chronological path. It’s a soft cacophony of sounds and images, a “dark ride” that you walk, and even then it’s impossible to absorb everything.
Highlights for me are the multi-story “multiplane camera” that allowed Disney filmmakers to create a realistic sense of depth within animations, the clever elevator that’s designed as a train car (the vertical naturally becomes the horizontal in this Looking Glass world), and the sleek modern terrazzo-and-glass mini-Guggenheim ramp
(image courtesy Walt Disney Family Museum) spiraling around a huge and meticulously detailed scale model of Disneyland.
In one sense it’s all a bit deifying, as if Walt were a latter day King Tut, but — as they say in Egypt — what a cool tomb! And here the hieroglyphics even dance to Silly Symphonies.
Beyond the Casino
I was also in Las Vegas last week, for a talk about Cliff May’s ranch houses at the World Market Center, which is another sort of “ride.”
Well off the Strip on the north end of town across from City Hall (you can see the Stratosphere Casino tower in the background), this enormous furnishings marketplace is a contemporary landmark in its own right. The complex consists of a series of interpenetrating cubes and polygons that wrap around a 15 story tall central court that’s open to the sky,
like a box canyon from Red Rocks Park reassembled as a building. It feels like the entrance to Oz. One of the great things about this design center is that it’s open to the general public, not just to professional designers. The Center’s Design Salon
offers consumers the ability to purchase designer furnishings previously offered only to the trade. Complimentary one-hour consultations with interior designers accredited by the American Society of Interior Designers are also offered. It’s a good place to get ideas for shaping or reshaping your home.
A short ride away is the new 180 acre Springs Preserve, Las Vegas’ answer to Tucson’s Living Desert Museum, and built on the site of the original springs for which the city is named (vega means spring in Spanish).
Here’s one of the rotundas, recalling a sculptural sundial or open cistern. Part of the vast indoor-outdoor complex comprises a sustainability hall where one gallery has been turned into a model home — which puts a novel recycling spin on that overworked trademark phrase “what’s done in Vegas stays in Vegas.” One of the most effective exhibits here
simply shows how much water is used in a typical five-minute shower with and without a low flow showerhead. (Nothing about sand baths, however…) Elsewhere in the museum you can experience a simulated desert flash flood (perhaps the other side of sustainability?) which in this case is fun: inside one of the buildings you stand on a metal bridge across a boulder-strewn arroyo and suddenly the water surges around and under you.
So what does it signify, when Disney comes to San Francisco and resource conservation arrives in Las Vegas? That may sound like the resolution of some distant prophecy but I think it means that things are looking up.
In other news, check out Writer Tracey Taylor’s fine article about about us and affordable home design in the Financial Times! Her website tktaylor.com includes a wide range of stories about design and is a must read.